Artists named for the 2017 Venice Biennale UAE National Pavilion exhibition

The five UAE-based contemporary artists who will be participating at the 57th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale have been named. They are all established figures in the art scene here: Nujoom Alghanem, Sara Al Haddad, Vikram Divecha, Lantian Xie and Mohamed Yousif.

The exhibition, titled Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play, is curated by Hammad Nasar. It aims to explore a strand of artistic practice in the UAE through the analogy of play. Featuring existing works, re-fabrication of ‘lost’ works and new commissions, the exhibition will stage a set of nested questions: Where does ‘playfulness’ in artistic practice come from? How and where is ‘play’ nurtured? What does ‘play’ do?

“We are delighted to work with this group of contemporary artists in shaping an exhibition that stages an inter-generational conversation,” says Hammad Nasar. “Through the artists’ diverse and distinctive practices, we believe that this exhibition will bring to life wider cultural and societal ideas around how ‘play’ functions in the world – as a source of vitality and a method of navigation.”

An accompanying publication expands the exhibition with specially commissioned pieces from contributors including Aisha Bilkhair, Uzma Rizvi, and Murtaza Vali.

A number of artists, architects and creative writers have also been invited to respond to the themes of the exhibition, with new commissions coming from Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh & Hesam Rahmanian; Deepak Unikrishnan; and WTD magazine. At the same time the themes of the exhibition will be reflected in work at a number of UAE institutions, among them Sharjah Art Foundation, Maraya Art Centre, Alserkal Avenue’s programming arm, Tashkeel, NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, and Warehouse421.

Each of those will have a free hand in developing the themes of play – more details on that are promised later – and the public can also follow the story on social media using the hashtags #positionsinplay, #uaeinvenice and #nationalpavilionuae.

“We see this exhibition as a contribution and extension to an ongoing conversation that continues beyond the time of the exhibition, and that the programming generated by each institution as a starting point for ongoing discussions,” says Khulood Al Atiyat, Manager of Arts, Culture and Heritage at the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation which commissioned the exhibition. “These events will take multiple forms, including artist talks, workshops, game sessions, a film series, or artist interventions.”

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play will run throughout the Biennale in Venice from 13 May to 25 November.

About the artists:

Nujoom Alghanem is a poet, artist, scriptwriter and award-winning film director from the UAE. Among her films, Nearby Sky (2014 won Best Non-Fiction Prize in the Muhr Competition at DIFF; Sound of the Sea (2014) was awarded a Special Jury Prize at the Alexandria Mediterranean Countries Film Festival ; and Amal (2011) has taken several awards including a Special Jury Prize from the Beirut International Film Festival.

Sara Al Haddad is a Dubai-based artist whose work characteristically embodies internal struggles and seeks self- acceptance by dealing with emotions, fears, doubts, and insecurities. She has had two solo exhibitions – at Pavilion Downtown Dubai in 2012 and Ductac’s Gallery of Light in 2013. She was also in the Gallery of Light show Ramadanization in 2016). Other recent group exhibitions include shows in Washington, DC; Baltimore; and Abu Dhabi Art’s Beyond segment in 2015.

Vikram Divecha was born in Beirut, bred in Mumbai and lives in Dubai. His work typically addresses labour, especially in terms of time and value, interrogating specific environments and challenging socioeconomic structures. His engagements translate into public art, sculptural installations, video and drawings. Recent local exhibitions include the rather good Portrait Sessions at Tashkeel (2016); the White Cube… Literally show at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde; and Accented, Maraya Art Centre (2015), among others. He won the 2014 Middle East Emergent Artist Prize.

Mohamed Yousif is a founding member of the Emirates Fine Arts Society and was served as its chairman for several terms. Motion and stillness feature prominently in Yousif’s works, which have been exhibited in art events around the world; as well as participating in all Emirates Fine Arts Society exhibitions since its inception in 1979, his work also featured in the seminal 1980-Today: Exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates show for the National Pavilion of the UAE at the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Lantian Xie is an artist from Dubai who makes images, objects, stories, and situations. Recent exhibitions include the 11th Shanghai Biennale, curated by Raqs Media Collective, and the 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale, curated by Sudarshan Shetty.

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